Fine Gael patience for ‘difficult’ John Halligan wears thin

Minister of State warns he is under pressure locally over Waterford hospital

John Halligan TD at Leinster House: A number of   Independent TDs said they had been approached by members of the Independent Alliance recently with a view to joining the Government should Mr Halligan leave. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

John Halligan TD at Leinster House: A number of Independent TDs said they had been approached by members of the Independent Alliance recently with a view to joining the Government should Mr Halligan leave. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Fine Gael is unwilling to grant Minister of State for Training and Skills John Halligan any major concessions on his local hospital over and above what is recommended in a clinical review.

Minister for Health Simon Harris met Mr Halligan last night and outlined how the independent clinical report could improve services at University Hospital Waterford.

Mr Harris, however, has stressed that he is sticking to the conclusions of the report – with the exception of offering an additional review of the hospital in one year’s time.

The Irish Times yesterday reported that services at Waterford hospital could be reduced as a result of the clinical review which recommends against the expansion of cardiac care services.

Fine Gael sources say they want to draw a line under continuous bargaining with Mr Halligan on services at his local hospital, with senior figures saying he has to decide if he wants to be in Government.

One Minister said: “It is very difficult dealing with our friend.”

Crisis meetings

A Fine Gael source said the issue of Waterford hospital should “crystallise” Mr Halligan’s willingness to be in Government.

Independent Alliance sources believe he will resign.

A number of other Independent TDs said they had been approached by members of the Independent Alliance recently with a view to joining the Government should Mr Halligan leave.

Some sources said it looked likely that Mr Halligan could resign from the Government, while others said he had gone back to Waterford to consider his position overnight. Another source said it would be difficult for the Independent Alliance to follow Mr Halligan out of Government – should he leave – over a local issue.

Mr Halligan warned Fine Gael Ministers throughout yesterday that he was coming under substantial pressure on hospital services locally.

The main request from Mr Halligan was for a second catheterisation laboratory at the hospital, but the review found there is no need for it. A catheterisation laboratory is used to test for blockages in coronary arteries.

The clinical review recommends refurbishing and extending the hours of the existing laboratory. Mr Harris’s proposal of a second review would assess if these improvements would necessitate an additional laboratory.

Second laboratory

Mr Halligan said at one stage he would have “no choice” but to resign if the second laboratory was not granted but he was understood to be open towards compromise, sources said – although this would still have to be sold in his constituency. He also criticised the methodology of the clinical review.

Despite the findings of the report, Fianna Fáil said it was committed to reinstating 24/7 cardiac care and installing a second catheterisation lab in Waterford.

The party’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher TD said: “Fianna Fáil is not in government now, but it is our clear intention to lead the next Irish government. When in government, we will ensure that cardiac care in Waterford is strengthened and improved.”

Waterford Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said “people’s expectations were raised not only by commitments given but by bold statements from junior minister John Halligan that this was a done deal”.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny last night held a meeting of Fine Gael chairs of Oireachtas committees to outline a work programme until July.

Mr Kenny quipped to Kerry TD Brendan Griffin – who earlier this year called on the Taoiseach to step down as leader of Fine Gael – that he “would be glad to hear I’m going nowhere”.